x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A call for responsibility in advertising

While skin-lightening cream companies didn't invent cultural stigmas to do with skin colour, they are guilty of propagating them.

While watching TV the other day, I was confronted with something that I have always abhorred, yet have found myself becoming increasingly desensitised to over the years: the Fair and Lovely advertisement.

A girl sulks miserably because nothing seems to be going her way, and is then consoled by a smiling friend who offers a solution to her problems in a pink tube. This blend of skin-lightening hydroquinone and damaging self-hatred is apparently the elixir of happiness; after using the magical cream, the girl's skin lightens by multiple shades and her misfortunes suddenly disappear. She immediately gets the amazing job that she was previously rejected for, and the perfect man who once ignored her is now lost for words at the beauty of her alabaster visage. She is now at the pinnacle of success, and the bogus message is clear: lighter skin equals a better life.

Such advertisements would undoubtedly horrify the average politically correct westerner, but they are all too common in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia. Skin-lightening creams are as much of a supermarket staple in these societies as a loaf of bread, and the advertisements for them are omnipresent as well.

The companies that make these creams defend themselves by arguing that they are simply catering to a consumer demand, which is sadly true; archaic prejudices associated with skin colour run rampant in many societies, making skin-lightening products big sellers. But while these companies certainly didn't invent these cultural stigmas, they do propagate them. The advertising strategies employed by these companies capitalise on age-old concepts of colour hierarchy by preying on inferiority complexes and reinforcing the false notion that lighter skin is superior - all in the name of profit.

What upsets me is not just that such shameful ads continue to be shown on a regular basis, but that they go unquestioned and unchallenged. The ridiculous implications of these advertisements and their negative effects on self-image are so painfully obvious, yet they are rarely ever discussed.

Who gave cosmetic manufacturers the right to take advantage of societal ills to construct a false idea of homogenised beauty, and then force-feed their dogma to us? How can something as fundamental as the colour of one's skin ever be perceived as inferior or in need of change? And, more importantly, why is it still deemed acceptable for these backwards ideas to be promoted by such far-reaching advertisements?